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Browns Mailbag: How close could Browns get to one of draft's best defensive players?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble tackles your questions one day before the 2021 NFL Draft

It's been a little more than three months since we officially opened the Browns Mailbag to your draft-focused questions. That was later than previous years, of course, because the Browns were playing meaningful football well into January.

That delay added a little more difficulty to coming up with answers to your queries. It's a lot easier to answer questions about what the team might do with the No. 1, No. 4 or No. 10 pick than it is the No. 26 pick. Your questions, though, were the real heroes, and they guided us through this exciting stretch of the offseason. For that, we very much thank you.

On with one more batch of draft-related questions!

Do you feel that the Browns could consider moving up far enough to select the first defensive player taken in this year's draft? If so, what would we likely have to give up and whom do you think would be the best choice for our defense? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

There's been some legitimate speculation about the entire top 10 being offensive players. That would be, for lack of a better word, wild, and it's by no means a knock on this year's crop of defensive players. There are just a lot of elite offensive players this year, the teams at the top need quarterbacks and the needs of many of the other teams in the top 10 point toward offense being the Flavor of the Day during Round 1 — at least the first part of it. Another big reason why this is a possibility: There isn't a top-end pass rusher or defensive tackle in this year's draft class. Barring a complete surprise, the 2021 NFL Draft will be the first since 2012 without a pass rusher in the top five. Since the Browns returned to the drafting game in 1999, there have been just three occasions in which a defensive player was not selected in the top five: 1999, 2005 and 2012. The latest a defensive player waited to hear his name called during that stretch was 1999, when future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey went No. 7 to Washington.

That said, the reason why many believe there WON'T be a top 10 without a defensive player is the Cowboys at No. 10. Most mock drafts peg them to take a cornerback, and the majority believe it will be Alabama's Patrick Surtain II. Let's assume that's what happens and let's assume Dallas is willing to move out of that spot in a trade. For the Browns to move from No. 26 to No. 10, it'd take a significant asset or three. The best comparison we found is almost identical to this hypothetical. In 2017, the Chiefs traded up from No. 27 to No. 10 to select QB Patrick Mahomes. To do so, they parted with a third-round selection and their 2018 first-round pick. Unfortunately, the price of doing business doesn't change much if you're moving up to take a defensive player. The Saints in 2018 parted with a fifth-rounder and a future first-round pick to move up from No. 27 to No. 14 to select DE Marcus Davenport.

What are your thoughts on the Browns potentially making a mid-to-late-round investment (or two) toward further fortifying the offensive line's depth for this season and beyond? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

That makes perfect sense, especially when you consider what Browns EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry said more than once during his pre-draft press conference. The Browns aren't deploying their picks to just fill needs in 2021. It's all about the biggest long-term impact, and bolstering the offensive line — as stacked as it appears to be entering 2021 — certainly qualifies as a way to make sure the success Cleveland had last year is sustainable. Just look at what the Browns did last year, when they selected C Nick Harris just a few months after signing veteran C JC Tretter to a contract extension.

"Bill Polian used to always say, 'Your needs today are not the same as your needs tomorrow.' I have definitely found that to be true throughout my football career," Berry said. "Again, we really do not go into the mindset of 'Hey, we have to fill a certain position or a certain position at this pick.' It really is about maximizing long-term impact on the roster."

How likely do you think it is that AB will select CB Eric Stokes at 26? He's got the length and speed and would seem to be a bargain at 26. Lots of upside, methinks. Your thoughts? — Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming

Based on the mock drives we've been needlessly and exhaustively analyzing over the past few months, Stokes isn't pegged as a first-round pick by most analysts. In the mocks that go beyond the first round, Stokes is typically somewhere in the Day 2 range. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, who projects Stokes to be a second-round selection, likens Stokes to Coty Sensabaugh, who played in the NFL from 2012-19.

"Depending upon scheme, need or preference, Stokes offers teams the potential to play him outside or from the slot. Speed and quickness should allow him to stay with route runners or within close-out distance when he gets behind," Zierlein writes. "His size, speed and athleticism could make him a Day 2 pick as a future CB3, but his weakness as a run defender will be challenged quickly by NFL offenses."

What are your thoughts on the Browns drafting a linebacker with their first-round pick and who do you think would be the best fit for this Browns defense at that position? — Stephen M., Cleveland

It's a popular pick by a number of analysts, many of whom have pegged either Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Tulsa's Zaven Collins to go to the Browns at No. 26. The interesting part of these projections is they typically have the Browns landing whichever player is drafted second between the two. Owusu-Koramoah, for example, has been projected as high as the middle of the first round while Collins has been linked by many to the Steelers at No. 24.

The biggest similarity between the two is they're both coming off big-time, award-winning 2020 seasons, as they truly maximized their final year to make an impression on NFL teams. The biggest difference is their size, as Owusu-Koramoah checks in about 40 pounds lighter than Collins and has the potential to play some hybrid safety. Collins, at a reported 270, has the size and skill set to deliver as an edge rusher in certain situations. Both could potentially look very good on a Joe Woods defense, but they'd likely be used in different ways.

How likely do you think it is that AB will select CB Eric Stokes at 26? He's got the length and speed and would seem to be a bargain at 26. Lots of upside, methinks. Your thoughts? — Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming

Based on the mock drives we've been needlessly and exhaustively analyzing over the past few months, Stokes isn't pegged as a first-round pick by most analysts. In the mocks that go beyond the first round, Stokes is typically somewhere in the Day 2 range. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, who projects Stokes to be a second-round selection, likens Stokes to Coty Sensabaugh, who played in the NFL from 2012-19.

"Depending upon scheme, need or preference, Stokes offers teams the potential to play him outside or from the slot. Speed and quickness should allow him to stay with route runners or within close-out distance when he gets behind," Zierlein writes. "His size, speed and athleticism could make him a Day 2 pick as a future CB3, but his weakness as a run defender will be challenged quickly by NFL offenses."

What are your thoughts on the Browns drafting a linebacker with their first-round pick and who do you think would be the best fit for this Browns defense at that position? — Stephen M., Cleveland

It's a popular pick by a number of analysts, many of whom have pegged either Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Tulsa's Zaven Collins to go to the Browns at No. 26. The interesting part of these projections is they typically have the Browns landing whichever player is drafted second between the two. Owusu-Koramoah, for example, has been projected as high as the middle of the first round while Collins has been linked by many to the Steelers at No. 24.

The biggest similarity between the two is they're both coming off big-time, award-winning 2020 seasons, as they truly maximized their final year to make an impression on NFL teams. The biggest difference is their size, as Owusu-Koramoah checks in about 40 pounds lighter than Collins and has the potential to play some hybrid safety. Collins, at a reported 270, has the size and skill set to deliver as an edge rusher in certain situations. Both could potentially look very good on a Joe Woods defense, but they'd likely be used in different ways.

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